The story is told in first person, from a male POV. Something that doesn't happen often enough in YA. The book begins with Colt finding out that Julia died. His best friend tells him, but even she doesn't know about Colt and Julia. Colt's family lives in The Flats, a poor neighborhood while Julia's family lives on Black Mountain. She's rich and popular and attends parties at the country club. She has a boyfriend in a similar situation, and then she meets Colt. There is an instant connection between the two, and they begin meeting weekly.
Julia's death hits Colt hard. And it's even harder when Julia's brother gives Colt a journal filled with letters written to him. Her family and friends mourn her loss, but Colt has to pretend he doesn't even really know her. I had a hard time connecting with Colt and Julia. Even though Julia isn't even in the book, except for flashbacks, she is a very big part of the story.
I had expected Julia and Colt's story to be full of love and happiness and the secrecy made it interesting. But, instead, it made me dislike the characters. Cheating implies lying and sneaking around and being dishonest. Whether the couple is a long-time married couple, or a couple of teens who've been together for several months, cheating is cheating. If reading about a relationship that is based on lies and cheating doesn't bother you, you may really enjoy The Secret Year. But it wasn't for me. I'm glad I read it, since it's something that so many people I know have read and enjoyed, but it most likely won't be a re-read.
The cover I have is the first one. It's the original cover. My favorite cover is the second picture, but it feels very misleading. It looks more like the sweet romance that I was hoping for. And the third cover... I think this one fits the best.